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In Support of the People of Iraq

. . . the Jesuits of Baghdad College and Al Hikma

Some pages concerning the story of Baghdad College and Al Hikma

Student activities with the Jesuits at Baghdad College

As one of 145 American Jesuits who lived and taught in Iraq over a 37 year period and still meets at biennial reunions with the Iraqi graduates who now live in the United States, it is distressing to see in the media the distorted view that many Americans have of Iraqi people. They are being blamed along with Sadaam Hussein for his actions, but in fact ordinary Iraqis are also hostages to Sadaam and furthermore have endured his Baathi regime for two decades.

The Jesuits went to Baghdad in 1932 and started two large schools, Baghdad College and Al Hikma University. Both were extremely successful academically, but also were places where Moslems, Christians and Jews worked, studied and played together harmoniously. Although initially suspicious, the Moslems came to admire the Jesuits for their dedication and persistence. They were impressed that the Jesuits held their posts during the short-lived pro-Nazi occupation of Baghdad during World War II and during the 1967 June war with Israel when the American Embassy closed down and all other Americans fled. In both cases, indeed through all 37 years, the Iraqi people supported and encouraged the Jesuits in their educational work. The support of these warm and generous Iraqi people contrasted with the indifference toward the Jesuit work displayed by our own American Embassy in Iraq.

In 1968 the Baathi coup d'etat brought about the demise of the Jesuit schools. The Baathi Socialist party moved quickly , closing not only the Jesuit schools but also all private schools in Iraq, just as the Syrian Baathi government had done a decade before. The only ones to come to the defense of the Jesuits were the Iraqi Moslem professors from the Government University of Baghdad. They pleaded in vain with Iraq's new Baathi president: "You cannot treat the Jesuits this way: they have brought many innovations to Iraqi education and have enriched Iraq by their presence."

Still the Baathi Socialist government ordered the Al Hikma Jesuits out of the country in November 1968. Hundreds of students came to the Airport to bid them farewell, in spite of threats to their well-being that were indeed carried out by Baathi party members. In August 1969 the Jesuits of Baghdad College were also banished from Iraq. Both schools were taken over and all fifteen major buildings, including two libraries and seven modern laboratories were confiscated by the Baathi party.

Over the past twenty-nine years, many of our Iraqi graduates have moved to America and have held ten extraordinary reunions with their former Jesuit teachers, the most recent of which had 1,400 people present. At these gatherings they discuss how they can pass on to their own children the system of values they have received. They appreciate the fact that the quality of their lives has been enriched. Their compassion for others has deepened and they value the spiritual dimension of life. The major concern of these men and women, who are now American citizens, is how to serve others.

The Jesuits who worked in Baghdad are unanimous in their high regard of the Iraqi people, and they find the violent characterization of Iraqis very offensive. There is no evidence that ordinary Iraqis in America really support the recent invasion by Sadaam Hussein. To vilify fellow citizens of Iraqi heritage is to repeat the same terrible outrage committed during the second World War against fellow Americans of Japanese heritage.

Published in the Bridgeport Post 12/15/90
and in the Boston Pilot 1/11/91
Written by Joseph MacDonnell, S.J.

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